Rose Glass’s directorial feature debut Saint Maud (2019) is a clever arthouse horror that deals with faith, death, and life’s purpose. The film shows us twisted realities and fantasies through the pious Maud, a mousy caretaker with a mysterious past, keeping us on the edge of our seats until the final, shocking shot. Complete with disorienting camera angles, slow yet enticing plot reveals, and intense interiority, Saint Maud is overall a wonderful trip into faith and psyche.
According to an interview with Vulture, Glass sees a direct relationship between Maud’s faith and psychosis. Such a relationship obviously spurred some harsh criticism, but the director, coming from a Catholic background herself, sees the danger in conflating the two. They are separate experiences, and while a person may descend from one into the other, “There’s always a long, complicated series of events” that leads from religion to “terrible things,” says Glass. Saint Maud takes us through that series of events.
For much of the film, Maud takes care of Amanda, a formerly illustrious dancer played by Jennifer Ehle. Maud, as we know, is fervently religious, but Amanda is an atheist. Right away, this causes friction. Maud is not content with her own observance; no, she must convert the nonbeliever as well. She soon sets out to save the sinner’s soul and consequently oversteps all rational boundaries. Amanda feigns interest at first, even gifting her caretaker a book about the painter and artist William Blake with a note saying, “My saviour.” But who is the savior? Is it Maud, the observant Christian, or Blake, who rejected all organized religion? However, as all things must end, the relationship turns sour, and Amanda reveals her true disbelief.
Depicting mental illness is, clearly and rightfully, tricky. We don’t want to villainize those who struggle, but we shouldn’t put them on the pedestal of more-than-human either. To make the situation more complex, we can add religion. Saint Maud walks the shaky line of showcasing a character with both a strong sense of faith and strong delusions. Importantly, Glass states, “It’s a lazy and quite dangerous way of thinking, to dismiss people who do terrible things as just inherently bad or mad people.” As such, there is nuance in Maud. Her faith doesn’t stem from mental illness, and her mental illness doesn’t come from her faith. They are disparate entities that happen to collide. It is intimated that Maud turned to religion when she was suffering, alone, and desperate. Just as it happens for many people, religion saved her, giving her hope and a reason to go on. What worked for her, Maud thinks, must work for others too, right? And what better way to honor G-d than to show more people the light? Of course, what Maud doesn’t consider is that not everyone wants redemption, let alone believes in it. Where do we go from there?
One of the most chilling lines is from Maud’s head, when she is alone, thinking of the trials she has undergone for her deity. The voiceover says, “If this is how you treat your most loyal subjects, I shudder to think of how you treat those who shun you.” This shows that Maud is religious not due to the promise of love, but because of the threat of punishment. She is willing to physically harm herself quite severely if those pains will grant her G-d’s favor. It is a selfish view, not actually concerned with the spiritual well-being of others. This poses the question of how much faith is based in self-preservation and how much is truly wholehearted love.
Saint Maud raises complex questions about the nature of religion without completely discounting the valid experiences of believers. I understand how some critics interpret the film, particularly the ending, as disparaging to faith, but I don’t agree with them. Blind faith, in my opinion, is not true. If we don’t question what we follow, if we don’t assess the rules for ourselves, then how do we know we are following the righteous path? Maud can be seen as a zealot, unwavering in her belief and intolerant of any and all dissenters. I can write a whole treatise on intolerance, but it’s been done before and it’s not why I’m writing this review. I’m writing to encourage you to watch a movie that will, hopefully, spur some new thoughts while providing a thrill.
Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story
If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.
How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie
This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.
With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.
The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch
One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.
Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.
The Approach to Campy Horror
A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.
It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.
The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way
When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.
The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.
Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.
It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.
See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!
RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review
Seasons screamings, everyone!
I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!
Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.
Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.
We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.
Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.
Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.
The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.
Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions. The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.
But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.
And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.
BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.
Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!